Monday, October 31, 2005

Gettin' my groove back

Yes, that's a gosu trick-or-treat basket.

I played six games yesterday evening with mixed results but I feel that I'm getting my groove back. That's the most number of games I've played in a single night since I got back from my break. My matches are a bit more sporadic as I am into a routine of studying and playing-to-apply. My thanks to slade (7k) for his extensive review of my match against mampato (22k); and to mungo (-), erislover (18k), and yoyoma (3k) for their continued encouragement and advice.

My matches included a rated game against fellow Go-blogger Woodard (24k) and he won by 2.5 moku. His blog is entitled The Axis of Heaven. His last post indicated that he would have an article printed in the American Go Association's e-Journal so you may want to watch out for it.

Kyu Review: Opening Theory Made Easy

This book, surprisingly, is not widely available at retail.
I suggest you buy it directly from Kiseido.
In the SF Bay Area, it is sold at Kinokuniya Bookstore.

Book Summary
Title: Opening Theory Made Easy
Publisher & ISBN: Kiseido Publishing Company, 490657436X
Price & Sources: $15.00 from Kiseido (excl S&H)
ChiyoDad's Rank Suitability Assessment: Introductory to Intermediate
ChiyoDad's Rating: 5/5 - Add it to your library

Of the books that I have in my library to-date, I would have to credit this one with giving my playing ability a sudden boost. It also gave me a better appreciation of the importance of the opening moves and why pros spend so much time on these. Today, I'm still re-reading its chapters to further imprint Otake Hideo's 20 strategic principles in my mind.

When you scan the index, you might get the impression that it's just a list of some proverbs straight out of the Nihon Ki-in handbook. Otake's book differs in that he provides many examples of how to apply these principles and a good explanation of why each of these should be considered and, in some cases, when they shouldn't. His style of writing is clear (perhaps just a tad folksy) and the book is as generous with diagrams as Janice Kim's Learn To Play Go series. This makes Otake's book an easy and relatively fast read.

Like with the Nihon Ki-in Handbook of Proverbs, you can non-sequentially jump from one section of the book to another. The benefit of this is that you can absorb the principles in whatever order urgently addresses your weaknesses. I encountered a lot of "Geez! That's what I'm doing wrong!" moments when I read this book, and I wound-up taking it with me almost everywhere so I could get ideas whenever I had as little as five minutes of free time.

You might find yourself trying to decide between Otake's book and In The Beginning by Ikuro Ishigure. I've only read about a third of Ishigure's book at this point but here are my comparative assessments as of today:
  • Otake's Opening Theory has more ideas but a little less depth. Beginners as low as 30k (by KGS ranking, which tends to underrank ability) can immediately benefit from it but that does not lower its value even to intermediate-level players.
  • Ishigure's In The Beginning has fewer ideas but more depth and it discusses tactics. It needs to be read sequentially and may take more time to absorb. Use it to build on some of the principles in Otake's book. I am reading it now because I'm running into other players who are able to apply Otake's principles against me.
Chapter and Section Outline
Chapter 1: Fuseki Fundamentals
  • Prin 1: Corner enclosures aim at side extensions
  • Prin 2: Be flexible in deploying the star point
  • Prin 3: Find the right pincer
  • Prin 4: Have a counterplan to deal with invasions
  • Prin 5: The 5-4 stone aims at outside influence
  • Prin 6: The 4th line is the line of development. The 3rd line is the line of completion.
  • Prin 7: Build box-like moyos
Chapter 2: Good Shape
  • Prin 8: Family feuds waste resources
  • Prin 9: Don't permit a hane at the head of your stones
  • Prin 10: You can never catch-up if you push from behind
  • Prin 11: The empty triangle is a bad shape
  • Prin 12: The ponnuki is worth 30 points
  • Prin 13: Don't atari automatically
Chapter 3: Strategy
  • Prin 14: Attack the opponent by stealing his base
  • Prin 15: Don't attach against weak stones
  • Prin 16: Try to kill two birds with one stone
  • Prin 17: Use thickness to attack
  • Prin 18: Keep away from solid positions
  • Prin 19: Reduce a large moyo lightly
  • Prin 20: Don't cling to stones that have served their purpose

Thursday, October 27, 2005

More Go in Russia & The 8th Ing Youth Tournament

Photo from their gallery.
Methinks that I should have more games outdoors.

Back in August, I had written about a Russian Go blog that was written in English. As some of you had commented in emails and online chat, this is a particularly enjoyable blog as it had several photos capturing their activities. We all like having windows into other worlds.

Well, the window into Russia has just expanded. I received an email yesterday from Mikhail G. Emelyanov, the Managing Director of The Go Federation. He informed me that their site now has an English-language forum. They now also have an expanded gallery of photos. You'll definitely enjoy browsing through both.

They have a lot of outdoors Go events; by the seaside, on the street, and at what looks like a backyard barbecue. Without a doubt, the public activites help promote awareness of the game.

This blog and its gallery really does a great photo-journalistic job. It makes me think that I need to make more active use of my own digital camera.

If you can read Russian, their main site can be found at

Youth Tournament in Sunnyvale

Photo from the 7th Ing Youth Cup Tournament.
Full Gallery from GoMasters.

For those of you in the San Francisco Bay Area, the 8th Ing Youth Cup Tournament is being held this Sunday, October 30th, down in Sunnyvale. The tournament is being coordinated by GoMasters, the club headed by Mingjiu Jiang (7p).

I'm not certain if I'll have the time to visit this tournament but the number of attendees is expected to be large. The whole Bay Area has a large Asian population and the South Bay is home to Silicon Valley.

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Info and a collector's opinion on Kuroki Goishi Ten's stones

A set of Yuki (Snow) Grade stones with Keyaki bowls.
Image from Kuroki Goishi Ten's website.

During my three-week break from playing online Go, I was contacted by a collector who was very kind to fill me in on the details regarding Kuroki Goishi Ten's (hereafter referred to as KGT) slate and shell stones. This gentleman had been collecting boards and stones for several years but discovered Mr. Kuroki's wares in the summer of 2003. He has since become a loyal customer and acquired several boards and stones, including some from Mr. Kuroki's specialty offerings. He has also maintained a very active correspondence with Mr. Kuroki.

I had two rather lengthy phone conversations with this collector and I wanted to share some of what I had learned from him in preparation for my purchase decisions.

Stone Sourcing


KGT sources clamshells to make its white stones from Mexico and locally in Hyuga (Miyazaki Prefecture), Japan. KGT describes Hyuga clamshells as having "finer patterns and a more elegant milk-white color than their Mexican cousins" and thus they are priced considerably higher.

Stone Grading
You will currently find four grades of stones on KGT's website and the list below shows how they rank with regards to quality and price (best to least) when taking into account the sourcing of the clamshells.
  1. Hyuga Clam Snow Grade (Yuki)
  2. Hyuga Clam Moon Grade
  3. Hyuga Clam Flower Grade (Hana)
  4. Snow Grade (Mexican Clam, Hyuga-crafted)
  5. Moon Grade (Mexican Clam, Hyuga-crafted)
  6. Flower Grade (Mexican Clam, Hyuga-crafted)
  7. Standard Grade (Mexican Clam, Hyuga-crafted)
My understanding is that the Moon Grade and Standard grade stones are being phased-out so KGT will eventually carry only Snow and Flower grades. The image below (click to enlarge) will show you the difference between the tightness and straightness of the patterns between these two grades.

Snow versus Flower (sometimes translated as Bloom) grade.
Image from Kuroki Goishi Ten's website.

The Standard grade stones tend to be less glossy than the others suggesting that it goes through a short polishing process. With a long polishing process, there is a greater chance of the stone chipping.

While personal preferences vary, most Go players that I have know favor stones that have heft and that are about 10mm thick. KGT's size 36 stones measure 10.1mm in thickness. The photos below will give you an idea of the relative thicknesses.

Sizes 22 to 33
Image from Kuroki Goishi Ten's website.

Sizes 34 to 40
Image from Kuroki Goishi Ten's website.

I've listed some of the prices to give you an idea of the relative value of these grades and sizes. I wanted to do a standardized comparison but not all grades were available in the same size. I don't think you'll miss the point, though.
  • Hyuga Clam, Snow Grade, Size 40, 40,000,000 Yen (approx. $370,000)
  • Hyuga Clam, Snow Grade, Size 38, 15,000,000 Yen (approx. $139,000)
  • Hyuga Clam, Flower Grade, Size 31, 100,000 Yen (approx. $925)
  • Mexican Clam, Snow Grade, Size 31, 30,000 Yen (approx. $278)
  • Mexican Clam, Flower Grade, Size 31, 25,000 Yen (approx. $231)
Keep in mind that the clientele for the high-end stones tend to be wealthy Japanese industrialists with the means to pay.

Comparative Quality
The gentleman I spoke to had acquired slate and shell stones from all the major vendors to the US along with three others that had gone out of business many years ago. As such, he was in a unique position to assess KGT's stones. It was his humble but strongly-asserted opinion as a collector that KGT's Standard grade conformed to everyone else's Snow grade.

To be fair, it's unclear as to how KGT's stones compare to other Hyuga-based vendors but KGT is currently the only one that has made their wares accessible to English-speaking clients via the internet.

Considerations When Buying
I was told that Mr. Kuroki has his best prices listed on his website's English best-buy page. The set pictured below costs about $333 and offers (1) Size 32, Mexican-clam, Moon Grade stones, (2) extra-large bowls made of New Sakura, and (3) a 5cm thick New Kaya table Go board.

Image from Kuroki Goishi Ten's website.
You can, and probably should, take the time to write to him via email and inquire about other packages that he might not have listed on his website. You should also inquire as to what the shipping costs would be via air and surface mail. Estimated costs to California would run 8,400 Yen ($78) for surface freight and 17,500 Yen ($162) for air freight.

I was told that he is a wonderfully attentive and polite man to do business with. Replies may take at least 2-3 days as he needs to have his English emails translated.

Most credit cards will charge a transaction fee of about 3% for foreign currency purchases. 2% goes to Visa/MasterCard and 1% goes to your card issuer.

Sunday, October 23, 2005

Visit to the Berkeley Go Club

ChiyoMama and Chiyochan opted to take it easy and spend this afternoon at home so that gave me an opportunity to visit the Berkeley Go Club for the first time.

I stayed from about 2:00pm to a little after 5:00pm and played two tutoring games. The first was with Herb with a 9-stone handicap and the second was with Charles with a 4-stone handicap. I lost both but received some useful tips and compliments on my play.

This was my first time playing on a real 19x19 board and it felt good to handle actual stones. I understand that Go playes may have preferences for thick or slim stones. After today, I'm convinced that I'd enjoy playing with stones that are at least 9mm thick and would probably prefer them even a little thicker.

I wasn't able to properly introduce myself to the gentleman in blue but the
photo shows (from left to right) Ron, Charles, Erwin (?), and Herb.

Herb explained that the key to playing in sente is to maintain instability in your opponent's positions. Admittedly, that's easier said than done but it's a useful thought to digest for strategic play. He also showed me different style of playing handicap Go which is less aggressive than the style recommended by Richard Bozulich in The Second Book of Go but which has the potential for creating more solid positions for Black.

I very much enjoyed my time at the club and will try to budget at least one Sunday a month for a visit. Mingjiu Jiang (7p), coauthor of All About Joseki, will be visiting on November 19th to do reviews. I might try to drop by and see what I can learn.

Memo to myself: Skip the LONG breaks

I'm going to avoid long breaks from Go in the future. It strikes me that the level of mental entropy is too great. As I expected, I've struggled in my recent matches. If I lacked determination or love for this game, I'd become discouraged very quickly.

Coming up this week, I hope to do a write-up on what I learned about Kuroki Goishi Ten's stones; one of the things that I was able to discover during my break. Start saving up your money. You might become obsessed with buying a set someday!

Friday, October 21, 2005

If you knew tesuji like I know tesuji ...

Boy, do I need to know tesuji (short range tactics)!

I've added a book to my library: James Davies's Tesuji from Kiseido's Elementary Go Series. You can use the above link to order a copy from Amazon or you can get it for $15.22 including shipping from I'll be doing a first impressions write-up on this book perhaps by next week but this it has gotten many favorable recommendations from other Go players. Even without my review, it's safe to say that it would be a welcome addition to any beginner's library.

I've consciously applied tesuji only 4-5 times in my games. If I had applied them more than that, then I wasn't aware that what my moves were tesuji.

The Second Book of Go, by Richard Bozulich, contains only eleven-and-a-half pages on tesuji. That much knowledge has helped me in my rise to 23k on KGS but it's reasonably certain that I'll need to acquire more tactical skills to progress further.

British Go Association ranks vs. KGS ranks

Speaking of rank, I came across the above chart from which plots solid British Go Association ranks of 37 players against their KGS ranks. It shows only a straight-line regression. After examining the data, I'm inclined to believe that function between BGA rank and KGS rank is more of a curve based on the dispersion pattern of the lower ranks. The slope of the line would increase as it extends to the right.

Without doing a deep analysis, my interpretation of the chart is that:
  • dans and single-digit kyus on KGS are roughly eqivalent to a BGA rank minus 4
  • teen kyus on KGS are roughly equivalent to a BGA rank minus 3
  • 20+ kyus on KGS are roughly equivalent to a BGA rank minus 2
I managed to play three games today and lost two. No worries. I need to be patient and get back into my groove.

Thursday, October 20, 2005

Crank it up.

My apologies to Mike Mignola.

I'm back! Well, ... almost.

My quarterly global conference has concluded once again and I'm absolutely exhausted. I'm functioning on just two hours of sleep. No Go tonight but I will play a game or two tomorrow.

I haven't been idle in the offline Go scene and there's a little to blog about. I'll need to save most of the stories for later days.

I'm a anxious (as in, "Suffering from anxiety") about starting up again with matches on KGS. I expect to be clobbered. I read a few more chapters of my Go books during my time offline and I think I'm suffering from a form of analysis-paralysis. I know enough about basic opening moves to know the many ways to respond, say, to an approach on a corner stone. What I lack is the experience, depth and reading ability to determine, under some circumstances, which response might yield a better result and how to play towards that result. This has been my experience when playing against GnuGo 3.7 beta in an even match at a lower strength setting.

To quote the proverb, "There is no loss in Go". It can be interpreted as a rough equivalent to Nietzche's "That which does not kill us makes us stronger". Experience is the best teacher and it's time to get back to playing.

Thursday, October 06, 2005

Too early and much too unprepared

I was impatient to get back to playing Go and took on fived ranked matches today even though I had a slight fever. I lost all but one and my rank slipped back to 23k. Serves me right for trying a premature return without much study.

I feel like I have hit a ceiling; that the skills and knowledge that allowed me to rise up to 22k are insufficient to take me to the next level. This is all familiar territory for many of us. It's that cycle of success-failure-breakthrough that you go through in sports (or just about any discipline, for that matter).

I'll be on a study break and will be offline from internet Go until October 21st. Given how much I write into this blog, maybe it's a great opportunity for new readers to catch-up on everything.

See everyone then!

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

Bot behavior

In an online conversation, gangstacow (19k) told me that the oddbot (12k) left in the middle of a game. My guess is that its system probably just rebooted as I have never heard of bots escaping. Of course, this could also be some new degree of versimilitude that's unique to its programming.

What I certainly did not know was that (some) bots resign games. After my at-home success against GnuGo 3.6, I decided to try an experiment against RankBot000 (13k) on KGS. I created a second account named CD02 and played against the bot with a 5-stone handicap to set the game at 18k. RankBot000 resigned after move 142 and gave my test account the provisional rank of 17k. If you're curious, you can see the SGF here.

I don't give much credence to ranks conferred by bots; as humans can be very creative. My success against GnuGo 3.6 does suggest, however, that it might not be difficult to progress beyond 22k when I get back to playing rated games.

My cold has stuck with me these past few days and seems to have gotten much worse. I hope it's not the flu.

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

Tsumego and Moyo Go Studio

Tsumego on The Post-Its next to the
laptop have draft avatars of two KGS friends
who might be featured in future 'toons.

For anyone that wants to practice tsumego but can't find the spare change for the Graded Go Problems for Beginners series, has four similar sets from the Korean Problem Academy which you can practice online. Registration with is required but it's free. I've been practicing on these via my old laptop while working.

Also, the KGS Teaching Ladder room features Tsumego Tuesdays at approximately 21:00 GMT. It's during my work schedule so I normally am unable to attend.

Frank de Groot has provided on his blog a movie that illustrates the features of Moyo Go Studio. This is a good way of introducing the product and I thought it was really cool. The movie got a few Oohs! and Aahs! out of me. It's a big download of about 175MB.

Monday, October 03, 2005

Playing GNU Go

I played a match against GNU Go 3.6 in between my analysis work today. The program had to run on a 116MHz laptop and was very slow (this kept my desktop free to connect to my company's encrypted virtual private network). I liked the more relaxed pace of the game which took over an hour to finish with 199 moves.

I managed to win by 11.5 moku with a handicap of five stones at Level 10. My game interface was Drago. GNU Go makes very sensible moves (to me, that is). I played thoughtfully and adhered as was applicable to Otake Hideo's 20 principles in Opening Theory Made Easy. The slow pace gave me plenty of time to assess the whole board situation.

Sometime in late October, I'll hopefully be able to write-up a review for Hideo's book. If you're impatient, my assessment in a nutshell is that is should be in every beginner's library.

Sunday, October 02, 2005

22k - Time for a break

My rank on KGS was adjusted to 22k after a couple more matches this evening. It may yet drift but I'm satisfied for having achieved another milestone. I've played 143 rated games on KGS since June 1st, 2005.

I will need to take a week's break and my blogging will be less frequent. The first reason for this is that I need to prepare for a major quarterly conference at work. The second reason is that I need to read more of my Go books. My recent games were hard-fought and it's time to acquire new ideas and practice more tsumego.

I'll probably lurk from time-to-time in the Beginners Room. See you all there!

Saturday, October 01, 2005

Tsumego from my match with Pyro

PyroGX (19k) is one of those players whose games I like to watch. I know he reads deeper than I do and I've seen him execute some very impressive plays. I was very fortunate have a match with him this evening in a game rated at 22k (3-stone handicap). I won by only 5.5 moku owing to an aggressive territorial reduction which established a living group in the center of the board.

But the immediate post-game analysis by yoyoma (3k) revealed a very interesting situation in the lower-right corner of the board where black could have captured a group of white stones and created life. Both Pyro and I assumed that the nine black stones were all dead. The analysis begins at move 237 in the SGF file (first branch) but, for those of you who would like to test yourselves, I'm presenting it below as a tsumego. My understanding was that, among the observers, only yoyoma saw it.

Black to move and capture the R6 group.
For simplification, assume that White cannot make an
effective ko threat.

In other news, I found some interesting Go curios on eBay this evening. They look like old Japanese Go books and may be more suitable as conversation pieces than articles for study. You can see them at auctions 7716259343, 7716260176 and 7716261558.